The Tenth Dimension

I found this really cool website called "Imagining The Tenth Dimension". It takes a different approach than I expected: instead of trying to visualize additional spatial dimensions, it considers additional dimensions as ways to transcend spacetime. The fifth dimension, for example, would let you "jump" to any spot in your past or future, but it would seem, without the ability to change anything. It's heavy stuff, but it's an excellent website that gets you thinking.


The Answer Really Is 42

Via one of my favorite blogs, Minding the Planet - For you Hitchhiker's Guide fans (I myself am not really much of one), this article will blow your minds:
There is an important sequence of numbers called "the moments of the Riemann zeta function." Although we know abstractly how to define it, mathematicians have had great difficulty explicitly calculating the numbers in the sequence. We have known since the 1920s that the first two numbers are 1 and 2, but it wasn't until a few years ago that mathematicians conjectured that the third number in the sequence may be 42—a figure greatly significant to those well-versed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... Using the connection, Keating and Snaith not only explained why the answer to life, the universe and the third moment of the Riemann zeta function should be 42, but also provided a formula to predict all the numbers in the sequence.

As Spivack says: 'You've heard of "Life Imitates Art," well this is "Life Imitates Humor" at it's best.'


p.s. I'm still not clear on what question 42 is answering...


Super-Serious Games

Via Wired: Two Serious Games that simulate the sensitive situation in Israel are coming out soon: "Global Conflicts: Palestine" (can't say I like the name), and PeaceMaker.

The article gets points for mentioning a game I used to love to play in high school: Balance of Power: "In 1985, Balance of Power tackled Cold War brinkmanship under a thermonuclear threat." In that game, if you tried moving against, or even talking to, a nation friendly to the enemy (say Cuba or Poland, if you're playing as the U.S.), you would get a very angry call with a leader with his finger on the button. You had to keep the keep the Cold War cold while making geopolitical advances (i.e. spreading your influence worldwide). Nuclear war was, of course, game over. It was definitely a fun way to get a feel for the tangled nature of Cold War politics.

I'm hoping these new games will show, in an objective manner, the complex nature of what's going on in Israel.


Funny TAN Post

Very cute screenshot a la The Assimilated Negro.


p.s. Why do I feel guilty when I write out "The Assimilated Negro"? It's not my fault...

High Profile WTF Guests

The Daily WTF had some interesting guest bloggers a few weeks ago: famous (by software developer standards) coders Raymond Chen, Tom Kyte, Eric Sink, and Blake Ross all weighed in. Blake Ross, cofounder of Firefox, had the best one, IMHO, since it shows an inside look at Netscape, post-AOHell...

Some funny Ross lines:
It's hard for me to write a WTF, not because I can't remember one, but because I remember too many. Netscape was one giant WTF, or as they called it back then, AOL. The company had grown so inept that "WTF" became just another thing we said each day, like "Hey" or "What time is it?" or "We just lost another 5%" or "Marketing wants to replace the Back button with an ad for Bowflex".

I hate to be down on anyone on the WTF guest writer list, but one guest WTF was just lame. First of all, it was a self-WTF (the author's own code), which is already suspect, given the lack of objectivity. Second of all, it was for an algorithm for a fairly complex geometrical calculation (whether a line segment is completely contained by a polygon). The calculation already involves a tradeoff between accuracy and speed, and the WTF, such as it is, simply leans too far, in the author's opinion, towards speed: "Eventually I would end up with an implementation of SegmentInside which is robust for any practical situation even though it would require essentially infinite time for any case which returns true." So the improvement would be a much bigger WTF! He should have posted that!

Anyway, I don't know why I'm being so hard on the author - he took time out of his day to contribute (I assume for free) to one of my favorite websites. And he did post about a topic that is of interest to me. It just rubbed me the wrong way. I guess it struck me as being more about self-promotion ("hey - this is my worst code, and it's not even that bad!") than WTF. Just a hunch.


p.s. In case you haven't noticed, I dropped the author's name from my blog - I'm not about to be badmouthing coders by name on my blog.

The DaVinci Code and Antisemitism

No, I'm not going to suggest that the book/movie The DaVinci Code is anti-semitic. Sorry. However, it has generated a whole slew of bestselling copycats with topics like Masonic influence in 19th Century America, Carpathians, and other conspiracies (from The New York Times):

2) THE BOOK OF FATE, by Brad Meltzer. (Warner, $25.99.) The apparent murder of a presidential aide reveals Masonic secrets in Washington and a 200-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson.

3) THE MEPHISTO CLUB, by Tess Gerritsen. (Ballantine, $25.95.) A Boston medical examiner and a detective must solve a series of murders involving apocalyptic messages and a sinister cabal.

6) DARK CELEBRATION, by Christine Feehan. (Berkley, $23.95.) Carpathians from around the world join together to oppose their enemies' plot to kill all Carpathian women.

And #4 Paperback:
CAMEL CLUB, by David Baldacci. (Warner Vision, $7.99.) A group of conspiracy theorists stumbles on a plot reaching to the highest levels of government.

Hmmm... what tiny religious group is perennially accused of all sorts of shadowy dealings? I can't wait to find out! Oh wait, I can.



Good Lawyers on Slashdot

Slashdot recently interviewed several lawyers defending individuals against the RIAA. This statement jumped out at me in particular:
The people who come out the strongest against 'trial lawyers' are the big corporations' PR departments. They want the 'common folk' to think ill of lawyers, because the law -- as imperfect as it is -- is the only equalizer left. And it's being eroded rapidly. And people dissing lawyers all the time helps that process.

Very true - rule of law is really all any society has, if you think about it. Without that, it's just dog-eat-dog, where the strong (say, the recording industry) devour the weak and defenseless. So this really extends well beyond the music business. Think about that next time you make a lawyer joke ;-)


Smells of the Subway

I'm not sure I'm with Gawker on this one. Ewwww...


p.s. They really put in the effort on this thing... wow.

Banned Books on Google

Google has a page dedicated to classic works that have been banned at one point or another. There are some surprises on the list, including "The Lord of the Flies", by William Golding, "1984", by George Orwell, and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", by Ken Kesey. In any case, any book from the last century with something to say seems to be on the list. Not particularly surprising, of course... Now go read!



Here's To Success!

A new study shows that drinkers make more than non-drinkers. While somewhat counterintuitive, it actually makes sense: people who go to the bar are generally more social than people who don't, so their personalities are such that they are able to go out and make more contacts, etc. Time for a new hobby!



Kids Not Eating Enough Dirt (Seriously)

Apparently, kids used to build up their immune system by eating dirt. Now that that isn't happening as much, some doctors are giving kids "dirt pills" to compensate.

I wish I was creative enough to make this stuff up.


Ummmm I Don't Think They Like It...

I'm not sure I've ever seen this before: The movie "Broken Bridges", starring country musician Toby Keith, got 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The entire gamut of film critics, from all corners of the MSM and the web, have all unanimously and independently agreed that this movie sucks. Even the worst toxic waste is usually supported by one or two rogue critics from who-knows-where who see something positive in the movie. Not this one, though. I have to say I'm impressed - it's hard to make a movie that bad. Way to go, Keith!


p.s. Just read some of the titles of the songs from Keith's 2003 album "Shock n' Y'all". Or these lyrics from "American Soldier":
When liberty's in jeopardy I will always do what's right,
I'm out here on the front lines, sleep in peace tonight.
American soldier, I'm an American,
An American,
An American Soldier

Of course, Keith himself never was in the army "doing what's right", let alone "on the front lines". What a dickwad.

Such Nonsense

I stumbled on this picture today entitled "Palestinian Loss of Land", which takes a "snapshot" of Israel from pre-1947, the UN Partition Plan of 1947, 1948-1967, and 2000. Since the host, EatLiver.com, doesn't take comments or feedback as far as I can see, I guess my only recourse is to write about it here (which is the only reason I'm even bothering with this BS).

Anyone who knows a shred of history in the region knows that the British controlled what is now Israel before 1948. And before the British, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) controlled it. The map implies that it was mostly "Palestinian Land" before 1948. It was called Palestine, but it sure wasn't Palestinian.

The second picture is my favorite: a map of the 1947 UN Partition Plan. It's amusing, because the Palestinians rejected it while the Jews accepted. Israel's 1948 borders were based on that plan. Had the Arab community accepted the plan, the world would be a very different place.

The map captioned "Stage 3" (a BS caption loaded with BS implications) shows a map of Israel from 1948-1967. Again, the green areas are labeled "Palestinian". But Gaza was controlled by Egypt at the time, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan, and the Golan Heights were controlled by Syria. Again, territory never controlled Palestinians.

None of these maps take into account that most of the south is desert. If you factor that in, the "Jewish land" becomes a lot smaller, even in the 2000 map.

There's so much other BS in this picture, but I like to actually back up my arguments and put forward a convincing case. And I don't have time for that right now. But for now, I think I covered the most obvious sources of the stench.

UPDATE: I had to update the link to the image - EatLiver is clever enough to check to see if you're coming from the site when you try to look at the image. It's a good way to make sure you have to sift through their ads to see the picture. Touche' ;-)


New Reading List

I put in a list of books I'm currently reading on the right side of the page. I'll try to keep it updated as my reading list changes...



Today in "No S--t, WebMD"

  • Overweight Girls Suffer at School

  • Teen Brain: It's All About Me: "Brain scans show that teen's brains may still be developing when it comes to sensitivity to other people's feelings."

  • Some Medical Interns Still Overworked (don't they ever watch ER)

  • Cancer's Genetic Code Cracked

  • Wait - that last one sounds important, actually...



    More On Cato

    I was a little too hasty with Cato - I may have let them off too lightly in my post about BS.
    which mentioned them.

    Check out SourceWatch, "a collaborative project of the Center for Media and Democracy to produce a directory of the people, organizations and issues shaping the public agenda." The Center for Media and Democracy says it "strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media 'of, by and for the people.'" Sounds good to me - I would imagine this should be the goal of basic journalism, not to mention Penn and Teller's show "Bulls--t": "investigating and exposing... spin and propaganda." I dotted out the "public relations" part of that quote, because that's just one avenue of investigation. Take out those two words and it's exactly what BS is supposed to be all about.

    Since it's cooperative, like Wikipedia, you may end up reading something totally different than what I'm reading when they talk about The Cato Institute. And there's a lot to digest from what I'm reading. But that's ok - you can go to Cato's website, and simply look at Cato's Board of Directors. That's my favorite way of seeing who's really behind an organization. So who do we have?

  • Richard J. Dennis, President, Dennis Trading Group
    Dennis is a Commodoties Trader. According to BusinessWeek, he made $200 million trading in the 1980's. Not exactly a middle-class "man on the street". You can see how deregulation might be his friend. More from the article:
    As Dennis' bank account grew, his interest in influencing public affairs grew along with it. Starting with a $1,000 donation to George McGovern in 1972, he has given $10 million to politicians, he reckons. An additional $20 million went to a think tank he founded in the early 1980s and closed in 1989, and still more went to a private foundation, he says.

    Can you see why Cato takes this position on Campaign Finance Reform: "The right to spend money on politics, including the right to contribute to campaigns, is protected by the First Amendment. Attempts to limit that right should meet with a great deal of skepticism from both citizens and the courts." Of course, my hypothetical donation of, say, $20 can't compete with Dennis's millions, which means my opinion is worth about %0.000001 to the politicians who are getting said millions, but First Amendment, blah blah blah, so I'll just shut up. Or, at least, talk at %0.000001 of my normal volume.

    Then there's:
  • David H. Koch, Executive Vice President, Koch Industries, Inc.
    According to SourceWatch, "Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held company in the United States (behind Cargill), with annual sales of more than $40 billion." (emphasis mine). Wow - makes Dennis look like a poor SOB. Koch, FYI, co-founded Cato.

    Another? OK, sure:
  • Frederick W. Smith, Chairman & CEO, FedEx Corporation
    Do I even need to bother? Another loaded-up-the-wazoo member of the board of Cato, who has a vested interest in deregulation. Regulations are EXTREMELY important to FedEx - they even have a page on their website listing the latest relevant laws for investors. So OF COURSE they have a vested interest in doing whatever it takes to reduce the number of pesky regulations (like, say, against shipping sex slaves from Indonesia or God-Knows-What from God-Knows-Where) and keep rolling it in.

    Last one (out of fourteen, so I can keep this up for a while):
  • John C. Malone, Chairman, Liberty Media Corporation

    Liberty Media Corporation (NASDAQ: LINTA,LINTB,LCAPA,LCAPB) is a holding company owning interests in a broad range of electronic retailing, media, communications and entertainment businesses. Our businesses include some of the world's most recognized and respected brands and companies, including QVC, Encore, Starz, IAC/InterActiveCorp, and News Corporation.

    That there's from the Liberty Media website. I'm not sure I would use "respected" for QVC, but they certainly are profitable.

    One last interesting point - Cato is hugely involved with the fight to privatize Social Security. The website socialsecurity.org is run by Cato. It's ironic how the same institute that poo-poo's global warming as being overblown are freaking out about the "Social Security crisis", using the same alarmist techniques that they decry when their opponents use it. Meanwhile, since privatizing SocSec means giving retirement money to private investors, it's no surprise the board also includes:
  • Lewis E. Randall, Board Member, E*Trade Financial
  • Jeffrey S. Yass, Managing Director, Susquehanna International Group, LLP
  • K. Tucker Andersen, Senior Consultant, Cumberland Associates LLC
  • David H. Padden, President, Padden & Company

    All prominent financiers. All stand to profit tremendously from SocSec privitization.

    So what's my point? Pretty simple: Cato is a bulls--t organization dedicated to changing public policy in their own interest by using a veneer of populism to peddle their crap. And Penn and Teller has had them on their show twice in the first season alone (that's the only ones I'm aware of), presenting their views. What Cato is NOT is an objective source of information of any kind, and anything they say is suspect of being a huge, steaming pile of BULLS--T. I guess P&T didn't pick up on that...

  • Random Kvetching

    You know what ticks me off? When I get a bill, and they write on the envelope "Are you sure you wrote your account number on the check?" Actually, I did not write my account number on the check. I included the receipt or stub or whatever it is you asked me for, which has the account number, and it's right there next to the check. If you're so worried about mixing up my check, write the account number on it yourself. I'm not doing your freaking paperwork for you, even if you offer to pay me the minimum wage you're paying whatever poor office drones are processing my check. Honestly, I used to actually fall for this crap and write out some 8 digit number to help them keep track of my payment. Like that's my problem. Yeesh.


    p.s. Just had to get that out of my system - you may continue whatever it is you were doing...

    Bulls--t In "Bulls--t"

    First of all, don't get me wrong - I'm a fan of Penn and Teller's show Bulls--t, which I was alerted to by Mihai here, here, here, and here. Anyway, they take on all sorts of cranks and scumbags out to dupe people for a quick buck. And I think they're doing a great public service with the show.

    However, I am a little bit suspicious about some of their tactics - I don't think they're above a little BS themselves. For example, in the episode about enviromentalism, they took on an enviromental group called Rainforest Action Committee (or something like that), and made quite a big deal of the fact that their spokesperson was, well, let's say "uninformed". But it begs the question - why bother with this group in the first place? If you want to demonstrate that a lot of young, idealistic college students are misinformed and deluded, that's fine. But if you want to get a statement from environmentalists, wouldn't the natural place to start be Greenpeace or the WWF (who are prominently mentioned and criticized in the show)? Or Al Gore, for that matter? Someone who can actually make a coherent argument, for better or worse? Naive college kids are just straw people.

    What got me suspicious, though, was when they brought The Cato Institute, a "a non-profit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C.", in. Not that I have any specific beefs with Cato, but what the hell are they doing in P&T's show talking about the environment? Ah, yes: "today, there is no greater impediment to American prosperity than the immense body of regulations chronicled in the Federal Register, and academic analysis has documented the economic inefficiencies engendered by the regulatory state." This is from Cato's "Regulatory Studies" page.

    Of course! All those pesky regulations that tell corporations to clean up their shit are hurting American prosperity! And it's Cato's mission, as a political group, to stop all that nonsense. Come to think of it, Cato's office was pretty nice. I'm sure cash flow is not a problem for any think-tank arguing against legislation - they're probably the darlings of every major corporation in America.

    I only noticed the Cato thing because P&T brought in Cato again in their episode on second-hand smoking, arguing against the regulation of smoking in public places. Now, I personally benefit from that, being a non-smoker, and able to go to a club without smelling like crap. And there's no shortage of evidence showing that first-hand smoke is one of the worst things you can voluntarily do to your body - from emphysema to mouth/tongue/throat/lung cancer (anywhere that stuff touches) - it's dangerous. So second-hand smoke probably isn't a whole lot better, considering it's the SAME SMOKE. But Cato's agenda is anti-regulation, and apparently P&T (and/or their writers/producers/directors) have the same agenda. Why else bring Cato in for two episodes in the first season alone?

    Again, I think P&T are doing a great service with this show, showing plenty of things as the BS that they are. But just like everything else, you have to take some of the things they say and portray with a grain of salt. Because just like the people in their sights, they're pushing an agenda, and they're running the show.


    p.s. As a side point, P&T use testimonials as evidence against the harmful effects second-hand smoke (a older, healthy bar owner in New York). But they rightfully dismiss the testimonial as any sort of proof in their other shows, because it's useless information. Individuals are not reliable to convey the state of their body, and even if they were, this particular man may have a built-in defense against SHS that others don't have. Or not - you just can't tell without real scientific data.


    Thinking About Conspiracy

    Make no mistake: the scope of some of the alternative explanations of what happened on 9/11 make them some of the biggest alleged conspiracies in modern American history. If any were proven true, they would make almost every other conspiracy theory that I know of look like small potatoes. Since "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (Carl Sagan), I'm certainly not advocating that any of these theories are true, or even viable. However, there are many questions that need to be asked, and there are many coincidences that need to be examined.

    The best website for reading about these questions is probably 911Truth.org, and one good place to start is their "Top 40" page. Some are strong questions, some are not. Here are a few of the stronger ones:

  • '[M]ultiple military wargames planned long in advance and held on the morning of September 11th included scenarios of a domestic air crisis, a plane crashing into a government building, and a large-scale emergency in New York. If this was only an incredible series of coincidences, why did the official investigations avoid the issue?' (loaded question but still important).

  • 'What did officials know? How did they know it? Multiple allied foreign agencies informed the US government of a coming attack in detail, including the manner and likely targets of the attack, the name of the operation (the "Big Wedding"), and the names of certain men later identified as being among the perpetrators.'

  • 'Unknown speculators allegedly used foreknowledge of the Sept. 11th events to profiteer on many markets internationally - including but not limited to "put options" placed to short-sell the two airlines, WTC tenants, and WTC re-insurance companies in Chicago and London.'

  • 'Bush and Cheney pressured the (freshly-anthraxed) leadership of the Congressional opposition into delaying the 9/11 investigation for months. The administration fought against the creation of an independent investigation for more than a year.'

  • 'The membership and staff of the 9/11 Commission displayed awesome conflicts of interest. The families called for the resignation of Executive Director Philip Zelikow, a Bush administration member and close associate of "star witness" Condoleezza Rice, and were snubbed. Commission member Max Cleland resigned, condemning the entire exercise as a "scam" and "whitewash."' Mentioned elsewhere - Thomas Kean, who led the Commission, is on the Board of Directors for Hess (Oil). Seems like a conflict of interest to me...

    Not on this list is, for me, one of the strongest arguments: The "Visa Express" program:

    The Visa Express program [introduced in May 2001] was a U.S. State Department program that allowed residents of Saudi Arabia to enter the U.S. without proving their identities. It became controversial when some of the 9/11 hijackers used this program to gain entry into the country, and the program was eventually shut down... The U.S. had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities of al-Qaeda members... A senior State Department official described the program as "an open-door policy for terrorists." No other country had this system to facilitate easy entry into the country.

    Ummmmm.... WTF? If this was, say, England we were talking about, it would still be an issue, but somewhat understandable. But we're talking about Saudi F-----g Arabia here! Whose brilliant idea was this? HELLO? Anyway, convenient timing, no?

    There's also stuff about the Florida aviation school where the terrorists trained that had all sorts of shady dealings, including drugs and politics. But it's not as solid as some of the other stuff, and it would be downright irresponsible of me to mention that the school also had strong connections to Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris, both very prominent in getting Florida for George W Bush in 2000. So I won't do that...

    As a counterpoint, Popular Mechanics has an article debunking several conspiratorial claims, but they don't address most of the questions being raised, although they do address quite a bit. They also take a snooty attitude to what are quite legitimate questions - as if questioning the official story is offensive somehow.

    I'm personally taking a cautious approach: I'd like to think that there is no conspiracy, and that the official explanation is correct, but without answers to some of these questions (particularly Visa Express), I can't fully believe it.

    UPDATE: I just noticed that the Popular Mechanics article redirects to hess.com! Who has, as I've mentioned before, Thomas Kean on their board. Jeez...

  • How To Lie About Your Blog

    Lore Sjöberg of Wired's Table of Malcontents has a great article about how to pimp your blog - tell you people you guest-blogged for one of the more popular sites like Boing-Boing, Fark, Joystiq, etc. The article doubles as a spoof of said popular blogs.

    Other priceless blog-related advice:
    Creating your own blog is about as easy as creating your own urine, and you're about as likely to find someone else interested in it.

    To be fair, some people have trouble creating their own urine, and some people go into a profession called "urology"... But perhaps I'm nitpicking?



    Katherine Harris: Vote Christian

    Florida Senate candidate Katherine Harris, who has been heavily criticized for her role as Florida Secretary of State in the 2000 presidential election, has said that not electing Christians will result in "legislating sin".

    I think she was trying to say that electing Harris would result in "legislating nutjobs".